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Spectrum

In Session at TPRC, Michael Calabrese of New America Emphasizes Vital Role of Spectrum Sharing

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Screenshot of Michael Calabrese from the webinar

February 18, 2021—The United States must institute a spectrum sharing policy to maximize efficient use of the critical airwaves, the director of New America’s Wireless Future project said Thursday.

Michael Calabrese, of the non-profit foundation long-standing project focusing on radio frequency spectrum issues, said “opportunistic spectrum sharing,” whereby incumbent users for a specific band of spectrum share it with other users, should be seriously considered for coverage.

Calabrese outlined the primary points of his January paper called “Use it or Share It: A New Default Policy for Spectrum Management” during a paper session of TPRC, formerly the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, on Thursday.

Calabrese conceded that running out of usable spectrum was not a new concern. He gave the example of the broadcast television spectrum incentive auction.

Even though the license to use certain bands of spectrum were already owned, in 2014 the Federal Communications Commission began to auction bands off for other uses on a volunteer basis. That is, television providers that were not using their allotted bands could sell the rights to use them to other providers, thus ensuring the effective use of spectrum.

Sharing spectrum already in use

According to Calabrese, ensuring the use of unused and underutilized parts of the spectrum is only a part of the picture. Sharing spectrum that is already being used must also be considered. He stated that traditional policies made to auction and clear spectrum could not hope to meet projected demand and that band sharing would be necessary.

As an example, Calabrese pointed to the military radar spectrum on the 3100 MegaHertz (MHz) to 3550 MHz band. Though these bands are currently dedicated to the U.S. military’s long-range surveillance and fleet air defense radar systems, Calabrese stated that the FCC has identified this band as potentially sharable and will be auctioning off bands of spectrum that fall within this range as soon as this month.

“The first principle of opportunistic spectrum sharing is that secondary users do no harm to incumbent services,” Calabrese said. In the context of the aforementioned example, this would mean that anyone sharing bands with military radar systems could not compromise the military’s ability to use their radar.

But this would not mean that incumbent users would have no obligations to those they are sharing spectrum with.

More robust sharing policies and initiatives would bring several key benefits, Calabrese argued. He stated that such policies would allow for more efficient use of federal spectrum capacity; lower barriers of entry for more uses and users; promote service in rural and underserved areas; and promote secondary market transactions.

Calabrese said that the use-it-or-share-it approach serves a more positive addition to the older “use it or lose it” strategy, which he asserted is too punitive and draconian when used alone. He was not completely opposed to the “lose it” component but emphasized the benefits of using a combination of the two strategies to get the best of both approaches.

Calabrese identified three key areas that would be optimal for spectrum sharing, namely bands from 2900 MHz to 3700 MHz used by military radar systems; bands from 4400 MHz to 4500 MHz; 4800 MHz to 4940 MHz used by the Department of Defense and other law enforcement; and, finally, a commercial band from 12.5 GigaHertz (GHz) to 12.7 GHz.

Spectrum

Interference Concerns with FCC Raised Over Wi-Fi in 6 GigaHertz Band

Southern Linc raised concerns about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening the band for unlicensed use.

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Illustration by Jose Ruiz from PC Mag

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – Wireless service provider Southern Linc raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission on November 9 about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening of the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band for unlicensed use.

The concerns, laid out in a post-meeting letter to the FCC, explained that the agency’s decision to open up the band traditionally used by services including broadcasting to unlicensed use was based on measurements taken in 2018. Since then, wireless data points have multiplied, rendering these measurements outdated and unreflective of the current Wi-Fi environment, Southern Linc representatives argued.

Southern Linc urged the collection of data on current Wi-Fi operations to successfully develop and implement automated frequency coordination systems. A thoroughly tested automatic frequency control system could provide for effective shared use of the 6 GHz band and reduce harmful interference, the company said.

Earlier this month, the FCC approved the testing of 13 proposed automated frequency coordination database systems from various technology companies to ensure interference issues are limited. During testing, each company will make the automated frequency coordination system available for a specific period for the public to test the system’s functionality.

Southern Linc also recommended a proposal made by trade associations to engage in next-generation Wi-Fi, dubbed “6E” for its capability to use the 6 GHz band. To date, the University of Michigan has a campus-wide Wi-Fi 6E system, the largest currently operating network of unlicensed 6 GHz devices.

In April 2020, the FCC adopted its 6 GHz Order, freeing up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (from 5.925–7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use, including for Wi-Fi connectivity. The order, supported unanimously by the FCC commissioners, was expected to improve Wi-Fi reliability and speed.

A few months later, in response to a challenge from AT&T, the D.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the FCC order stating that the “petitioners have failed to provide a basis for questioning the commission’s conclusion that the order will protect against a significant risk of harmful interference.”

In December 2021, the National Spectrum Management Association echoed concerns about harmful interference, alleging the FCC decision was made without proper testing.

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Spectrum

Interagency Spectrum Agreement Already Paying Off, Officials Say

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said an NTIA official.

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Photo of Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy

November 21, 2022 – The updated memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is already greasing the wheels of federal spectrum policy, said officials from both agencies during a webinar Monday.

Freeing up spectrum for commercial use will drive 5G technology and the attendant economic benefits and has become a favorite cause of many in Washington. The agencies agreed to the updated memorandum in August, at which time FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for a “whole-of-government” approach to spectrum policy.

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy.

And although the memorandum is young, “it’s starting to have a meaningful impact and will continue to,” Khlopin said. He added that his agency is considering methods to concretely track the memorandum’s effectiveness going forward. Khlopin also suggested that the memorandum will demystify the NTIA’s spectrum-related activities for other federal agencies, to the benefit of all.

“I think [the memorandum] reestablished expectations and focused on the sharing of information between the agencies and on long-range planning,” agreed Joel Taubenblatt, acting bureau chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC.

The FCC administers spectrum for non-federal uses, the NTIA for federal uses. Federal spectrum managers must weigh the needs of federal agencies – e.g., spectrum used for national security purposes – with the interests of private actors. One way of making more spectrum available is to convince federal agencies to give up their allotments. 

In October, Scott Harris, senior spectrum advisor at the NTIA, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy” that will heavily rely on public consultation. Khlopin on Monday echoed Harris, saying that the public’s input is critical.

The FCC announced the winners of the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) spectrum auction in September and adopted a notice seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band last month. Last week, Commissioner Brendan Carr called on his colleagues to make still more spectrum available.

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Spectrum

Carr Advocates Release of More Spectrum as Deadline to Extend FCC Auction Authority Looms

Allowing the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum to expire would be “unacceptable,” Carr said.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2022 – Commissioner Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday advocated making available more spectrum for commercial use and urged the extension of the commission’s auction authority that expires next month.  

“We’ve got to make…a great spectrum comeback,” Carr argued during a “fireside chat” hosted by the R Street Institute. “We’ve got to start matching that same pace and cadence that we saw [during Ajit Pai’s term as FCC chairman from 2017 to 2021].” Carr is, like Pai, a Republican.

Carr spoke highly of Pai’s record of acting on several spectrum bands, which includes the auction of 280 megahertz in the C-band – from 3.7–3.98 GigaHertz. Carr called the C-band, “the big kahuna.”

Since the FCC is an independent agency, largely driven by technical considerations, Congress was prudent to vest it with its spectrum authority, Carr argued. But that authority expires on December 16, after a continuing resolution signed by President Joe Biden extended the FCC’s ability to deliver on spectrum policies beyond the original September 30 deadline.

Such an expiration would be “unacceptable,” Carr said. “We have never had a lapse in this auction authority,” he added. “We need to continue to signal to the world and to our private sector that we know what we’re doing, we’re competent here, you can rely on a consistent pipeline of U.S. spectrum.”

In July, the House of Representatives passed the Spectrum Innovation Act, which would vest the commission with auction authority until March 2024.

Carr also praised the efforts of his colleague, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. The FCC in October sought comment on the 12.7 GHz–13.25 GHz band, following the agency’s August announcement of the winners of the 2.5 GHz auction.

Congress can also act to free up spectrum now held by federal agencies that would be more productive if available to the marketplace, said Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, on a panel following Carr’s remarks.

“Most of the spectrum, whether it’s for licensed or unlicensed, nowadays is going to have to come from federal agencies, and federal agencies are loath to give up the spectrum that they have,” Kane said.

In October, a senior spectrum advisor at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the entity that administers spectrum used by the federal government, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy,” the primary goal of which will be to make available more spectrum.

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